International Relations

Lost Children of Ukraine: An ALEC Women’s Leadership Episode

Despite having information about what's happening, The international community is once again, very slow to respond and to stop this, and innocent children are bearing the brunt of inaction.

Since Russia’s assault on Ukraine in February 2022, tens of thousands of Ukrainian children have been forcibly abducted and taken to Russia and nearby countries friendly to Russia, such as Belarus. Most of these children have living relatives who are frantically searching for them.

As part of ALEC’s Women Leadership Series, and to commemorate Ukraine’s Constitution Day, ALEC Federalism, International Relations, and Homeland Security Task Force Senior Director Karla Jones and ALEC Health & Human Services Task Force Senior Director Brooklyn Roberts interviewed Gillian Huebner, Executive Director of Georgetown University’s Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues. describes this as the largest missing children’s case since World War II.

Watch the full interview.

Historical Context and Legal Framework

The abduction of Ukrainian children has been ongoing since 2014, following Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine. Huebner notes that at least 20,000 children have been forcibly removed since the full-scale invasion began more than two years ago. International law, including the 1949 Geneva Convention and the UN’s Resolution 1612, protects children during conflicts. The Genocide Convention and the International Criminal Court (ICC) also classify the forced removal of children as an act of genocide.

We know that at least 20,000 children have been forcibly removed from Ukraine to Russian occupied territories as well as to the interior of Russia and some to Belarus. That’s just since the full-scale invasion two years ago, but the practice of removing children from Ukraine has been going on since 2014 when Russia illegally occupied Crimea as the fighting began in the eastern part of the country.

Challenges and International Action

Huebner emphasizes the urgency of resolving this crisis, as every month is critical for the development and well-being of the abducted children. The U.S. Congress recently passed a resolution recognizing the abductions as acts of genocide with overwhelming bipartisan support. However, there is a significant gap between recognizing the problem and taking effective action to address it. The international community’s response has been slow, despite the clear legal framework and historical precedents that demand action to prevent further harm to these vulnerable children.

Child abduction and child trafficking is considered a very bipartisan issue with anyone with a pulse who’s generally caring. I do not understand why this is not getting more attention, except that we live in echo chambers and news is covered in echo chambers. I don’t think people fully understand what this means.

There’s also Russian propaganda that talks about this as a humanitarian act by removing kids out of conflict and taking care of them. Even if you believe that, and even if that is the intent behind some of the removals, they are still in violation of international law, which requires the state to say okay, these are the children we have in our care.

Propaganda and Awareness

The lack of widespread media coverage and public awareness of this issue is concerning. Russian propaganda portrays the abductions as humanitarian acts, complicating the narrative and reducing the urgency of international responses. Additionally, some older children are being mobilized into Russian forces, further exacerbating the situation. Huebner calls for a more robust international response, noting the historical failures to prevent genocides in Rwanda, the Balkans, and Darfur.

That’s happening again now, despite knowing what we know and despite the international laws. Despite having information about what’s happening, The international community is once again, very slow to respond and to stop this, and innocent children are bearing the brunt of inaction.


Huebner concludes by stressing the importance of timely action and international cooperation to protect the abducted Ukrainian children. While the U.S. has taken steps to condemn the abductions, more decisive actions are needed to ensure the children’s safe return and to hold the perpetrators accountable. The international community must not repeat past mistakes and should act swiftly to address this humanitarian crisis.